This devastatingly beautiful film about an unconventional relationship between an older woman, Emmi, played with much tenderness by Brigitte Mira, and a younger man, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a Moroccan immigrant, is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s homage to the master of Hollywood melodrama, Douglas Sirk.
After a chance encounter in a bar, the couple fall in love and get married – but all is not well: nosy neighbours, colleagues and Emmi’s adult children meet the newlyweds with much hostility. As the couple become more and more marginalised, the prejudiced narrow-mindedness they encounter increasingly chips away at their happiness.
This powerful and visually rich drama unfolds across a series of carefully composed, very striking tableaux, which function as visual summaries of the characters’ isolation. Shot in just a fortnight, Fassbinder’s international breakthrough film won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974. More familiar with his later period pieces and television work, I rediscovered Fear Eats the Soul during its extended run at BFI Southbank a few years ago.
Film Booker, Distribution